At 9:20pm on Friday 10th April 1992 a massive truck bomb planted by the IRA exploded in the heart of the The City of London killing three people and causing almost a billion pounds worth of destruction. The Baltic Exchange was damaged beyond repair and The Gherkin now stands on this site. Just hours earlier the General Election results had came though, showing that all the opinions polls had been wrong and it would be John Major, not Neil Kinnock, as Prime Minister for the next five years. The next day Leeds United won and went top of the table on their way to winning the league, back when it was still called the first division. When the bomb went off, I was in The Astoria (now demolished for the Crossrail works at Tottenham Court Road) watching a gig by the Pale Saints and the Boo Radleys with my best mate. Afterwards we discovered that Liverpool Street station was closed as the police were sealing off the area, so we had to get the tube to Epping and then a taxi to his house in Harlow because (and here, finally, comes the point to this paragraph) the next morning we were setting off on a weekend cycling break going to and from the youth hostel at Castle Headingham. Until August this year, this was the last time I had gone touring and the last time I had stayed in a youth hostel – a very long time ago.
For several years I’ve looked jealously at Strava rides and Facebook photos as people I know have ridden around The Alps and The Pyrenees, done Land’s End to John O’Groats or sportives in The Dolomites. Last summer Carsten and Hanna went on a seemingly never-ending tour around half of Europe while James loaded his panniers up with camping equipment and rode from Walthamstow up to Edinburgh on his own. At this point I decided enough was enough and I really wanted to do something similar myself. This would require delicate negotiations and massive favours (to be repaid!) to sort out the childcare and dogcare while I was out on the road. By January agreements had been struck and I rejoined the Youth Hostel Association after a 26-year hiatus and got to work on booking accommodation and planning my routes.
My initial plan was to ride down to Land’s End and get a train back, but the more I looked into it, the more it seemed that the train side of things was going to be too much hassle. I ended up with a modified plan with a loop heading from Sussex (where my parents live) to Dartmoor via The New Forest and my in-laws’ place in Poole, then up to Exmoor and then back across to Sussex again over six days. I booked myself in to hostels in Burley (New Forest), Beer (the Devon coast), Dartmoor and Minehead (the Exmoor coast), but there was no suitably located hostel for the fifth night. I decided I would probably treat myself to a B&B or Premier Inn in Salisbury but would book that nearer the time. This would mean about 460 miles over six days with back-to-back days of over 90 miles to finish off. I’d never ridden so far in such a short space of time, but was pretty confident I could do it no problem.
I had been growing disillusioned with racing and decided this tour would be my new focus and target for the season. I also wanted to do more car-assisted rides in the south-east to explore places I hadn’t ridden before, such as The Chilterns, The Cotswolds and bleak landscape at Dungeness. I was going to make these a monthly thing so I got all my routes planned and posted my plan on the forum: https://leavalleycc.microco.sm/conversations/317642/#comment14155783
Then things went horribly wrong. On a Friday afternoon in the middle of March, with ‘The Beast From The East’ returning for its second blast of Arctic temperatures, I finished work, picked my daughter up from school and took the dog for a walk in Lloyd Park. While my dog was off the lead and chasing a ball, a much bigger dog ran over and started to attack him. Trying to intervene, I went from a standing start in the cold to sprinting as fast as I could in jeans and walking boots – in the first steps I felt this sudden pain as if someone had thrown a cricket ball hard into the back of my leg then suddenly realised I couldn’t run any more. In fact even walking was extremely difficult. And there was no cricket ball lying around. The owners of the aggressive dog pulled him away and then swiftly left the park while I lay on the ground wondering what I was going to do next. Eventually I limped agonisingly home clinging onto walls and cars, taking over half an hour to manage the quarter of a mile. A visit to the hospital got me a pair of crutches, the GP gave me strong painkillers and signed me off work for several weeks and then a specialist sports injury physio confirmed that it was a badly torn soleus muscle (part of the calf) that would take 12 weeks to recover from.
There followed a miserable and mostly housebound month. After four weeks I was given the all-clear to drive again and return to limp around work. After seven weeks I was walking almost normally and the physio told me to try climbing back into the (lowered) saddle and ride on the turbo trainer for a six-minute session: I managed a rather depressing 0.5 miles averaging 5mph with a cadence of just 41. I just could not turn the pedals any faster than that. Within a week I was able to do a couple of miles at 11mph and after that I started doing my 1.5-mile Walthamstow commute again. At the start of June I finally broke through the 10-mile barrier with a slow 11.6-mile ride. A week later I got the psychological boost of joining the club run at the Town Hall for the first time in three months, though I only went as far as High Beach before turning back for home alone. The physio had stressed that I mustn’t try to do too much too soon and not to increase the load by more than 20% each time – but there was now less than two months to go to the start of the holiday and I was running out of time to build up my strength and fitness for it.
Common sense kicked in and I had to accept that there was no way I was going to be ready for doing rides of over 90 miles by the start of August, especially with fully-laden panniers. I decided to ‘cheat’ and move the start and finish point about 100 miles west from my parents’ place in Sussex to my in-laws’ place in Dorset. This would shave about 100 miles off my tour’s total distance and reduce the longest daily distances from about 95 miles to about 65 miles. This new target was more attainable and by late July I had managed to get a couple of 65-mile rides under my belt (including the car-assisted Cotswold ride I had planned months earlier).
In the meantime I had had to get my bike ready for the tour. The wheels on my winter bike were near the end of their life and not really suited to carrying heavy loads so, at the suggestion of my local bike shop, I had some new ones purpose built for me with extra spokes and tubeless tyres. Add on the cost of a carrier, a service and various bits and bobs and I ended up spending more than the bike itself had cost in the first place.
My plan was to do a ‘dress rehearsal’ by packing my panniers with everything I intended to take on the holiday and setting off on a long ride to see how it was. However, the scorching heatwave that had burnt its way through June and July abruptly came to an end the weekend before my holiday. There were ridiculous 45mph winds on the Saturday and torrential rain on the Sunday (as those who did Ride London or the Dunwich Dynamo will attest) so I didn’t fancy a long one and just did a short ride into Central London and back. Crucially, this didn’t feature any hills at all, so my rehearsal didn’t really warn me about what was to come.
Day One: The New Forest 66 miles, 15 mph, 574 metres climbed
A relatively easy day as I didn’t have to carry all my luggage (I left some with my in-laws) and there weren’t any proper hills. My main enemy was the 30C temperature and the constant interruptions by ponies, cows and donkeys. Despite the name, it wasn’t all forest (or new). There was plenty of purple heather and I also made a brief visit to the beach at Milford-on-Sea with a view across the sea to the Isle of Wight. In the evening I was delighted to discover that youth hostels now sell beer – this was absolutely unthinkable back when I previously used them. I was less happy to discover that handwashing your cycle kit is quite laborious and that even lycra takes a long time to dry out when it’s absolutely dripping wet.
Day Two: Poole to Beer 67 miles, 13.8 mph, 1,340 metres climbed
A bit of a late start as first I had to drive to my in-laws first and repack my bags, then I had a frustrating few miles trying to ride through the endless Saturday traffic jams around Wareham as the every tourist in England tried to drive down to The Purbecks. Once through Dorchester I had my first proper climb of the holiday up to The Hardy Monument. At this point two things rapidly became clear: the South West of England is much hillier than the South East and I was carrying far too much weight.
At the end of the holiday, after a week of feeling like I was carrying a piano on the back of my bike, I weighed everything and discovered that my panniers had a combined weight of 11.5 kg. A substantial part of this was the heavy D-lock I took with me and never once needed to use. The bike itself (plus saddle bag, video camera, water bottle etc.) was a further 11 kg on top of that so I was riding with approximately three times as much non-body weight as I normally would (and, if I’m honest, a few more kg in body weight than I had had pre-injury). It’s no exaggeration to say I spent 90% of the holiday in the small chainring. Climbing was a huge struggle and descending was terrifying due to a feeling of instability and brakes that seemed to take forever to stop me.
To describe the hills I encountered it’s useful to have a more local reference point. We often spice up the start of our club runs by riding up Mott Street in Epping Forest and the steep part of this is used for our club’s annual hill climb championship every autumn. The vital statistics for the hill climb course are: length 0.61 miles, height gained 67 metres, average gradient 7%, maximum gradient 12.5%. That’s basically as tough as it gets in our part of the world. Venturing south of London there are some more serious climbs. For example, Leith Hill in the Surrey Hills is the toughest climb in Ride London, and it is essentially a double Mott Street (i.e. the same average and maximum gradient, but twice as long and with twice as much height gained). Both of these would be dwarfed by what the next few days had in store for me.
To get to the Hardy Monument you climb for more than two miles with the steepest section right at the top. My maximum heart rate is 190 bpm and I hit 189 as I reached the top. I then pulled into a National Trust car park, got off the bike and lay on my back panting – this is not my normal hill climbing behaviour. Once I was able to ride again, I found that the other side was even steeper as I plunged down to Abbotsbury. Having come all the way down, I then had to go straight back up Abbotsbury Hill – one mile long, but taller and steeper than Leith Hill with a maximum gradient of 18%. It wasn’t long before my heart rate hit 186 with my speed at just 5 mph and I was still only half way up the climb. I had to swallow my pride and do something I hadn’t done for years: stop, put my feet down and try and recover before pushing off again. I managed another 200 metres, then had to stop again on the very steepest section. This time I had to do the unthinkable: I got off and walked 50 metres or so until the gradient eased enough for me get back on. The horror! Not only was it embarrassing, it’s actually also surprisingly difficult to push 22.5 kg up an 18% incline while wearing cleats.
Having finally reached the top I was rewarded with a glorious section along a ridge with views all around and the sea shining blue far down below. Then I swooped down to Burton Bradstock and turned inland to Bridport. When I had planned my route, I had avoided going along the coast to Lyme Regis because it looked too hilly. I’m not convinced it made any difference: as I plodded along the country lanes crossing from Dorset into Devon I found myself on a third horrendous climb near the village of Marshwood. Nearly three miles of continuous climbing, mostly at a manageable gradient, but with a horrible 17% sting in the tail. For the second time that day I had the humiliation of having to climb off and walk 50 metres to make it round the very steepest bend.
I still had about 16 miles to go, the sun was still baking me, I was getting dangerously low on drink with nowhere to buy anything from, and getting later and later. I remember seeing a sign for a village called ‘Compbyne’ and riding deliriously for about half an hour with “Oi’ve got a brand new Compbyne ‘arvester” going round and round my head in a loop. Finally I reached the coast again at Seaton and then the village of Beer (where, to add insult to injury, the youth hostel was located at the top of another very steep hill).
I was so late by this point that I couldn’t order any food at the hostel so had to walk back down the hill into the village to find something to eat so I treated myself to some swordfish in a pub and studiously avoided making any jokes about beer when I ordered a beer in the pub in Beer (on the offchance that somebody might have done this before).
Day Three: Beer to Dartmoor 47 miles, 11.7 mph, 1,441 metres climbed
I didn’t get much sleep due to the humidity and the snoring competition that took place through the night in my dormitory, but I still got up early enough to take a walk down to the beach. It was beautiful and peaceful there and I would have loved to just spend the day there instead, but no. Without any warm up whatsoever my first mile of the day was entirely uphill (measuring 1.5 Mott Streets). I headed away from the coast and inland to Exeter. Then the climbing really began.
The section of the B3212 that I rode rises from virtually sea-level to a height of 460 metres, but it does this by repeatedly grinding up, then plunging back down again, then grinding back up again. It is spirit-crushingly never flat. It was essentially about 20 miles of torture with three separate sections of climbs over three miles long. I did the equivalent of three consecutive Mott Streets, plunged down, then immediately did four Mott Streets, plunged down again, then did another four Mott Streets. It’s fair to say I’d had enough by this point. It wasn’t so much the amount of climbing (I did well over double this in the North York Mooors last summer), but the cumulative effect on the legs of climbing while carrying the equivalent of a dozen bottles of wine stuffed in my back pockets. I dodged sheep and ponies (two of which tried to eat my phone when I tried to film them – is this normal?) and arrived at the hostel in the heart of Dartmoor an hour before it opened and just lay on the ground exhausted outside their front door, drifting in and out of sleep until they opened up. That evening I revitalised myself with the chosen recovery drink of the holiday (beer).
Day Four: Dartmoor to Exmoor (Minehead) 67 miles, 12.5 mph, 1,552 metres climbed
By this stage my legs were knackered even at the start of the day and I couldn’t get comfortable on the saddle at all. Although I set off in sunshine within minutes thick cloud had descended around me there was little visibility as I opened the day with three more Mott Streets and a load more sheep in the first four miles. Then I turned off the B3212 onto a series of insane country lanes – incredibly narrow, often with plants growing in the middle and steep banking at the sides. As I descended off the moors I had to slam the brakes on, get off the bike and climb out of the road to let any oncoming vehicles get past me (fortunately there weren’t too many). In fact most of the lanes in Devon were like this so I spent the day going up and down them while passing though villages with strange names like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Nomansland’. Another very hard slog of a day, but after an emergency pub stop (for orange juice and lemonade, not beer) at Wheddon Cross things picked up with a long, fast descent and a quick visit to the north coast. The hostel was not in Minehead itself, but up a muddy, stony track on a hill in a forest in the middle of nowhere. I had no energy left to head back out again so stayed there and drank…some beer.
Day Five: Across Somerset 58 miles, 14.3 mph, 852 metres climbed
The route I had planned and loaded on my Garmin would have taken me south to the Blackdown Hills, but I woke up to light rain and dead legs and just thought ‘nope’. Instead I desperately tried to find a relatively flat way of getting to my destination (Axminster, near Yeovil). I headed south-east along the foot of the Quantocks, carefully avoiding actually riding over them. Then, after Taunton, I headed into the Somerset Levels in the hope that this would be flat. All I knew about this part of the world was that it was in the news a few years ago when the whole area was flooded for more than a month with various villages abandoned and/or under water. For the most part it was pleasingly flat, a south-western equivalent of The Fens, but punctuated by several short sharp hills.
During the couple of months of inactivty following my calf injury I had piled on a few pounds that I had hoped to burn off with the intense exercise of this holiday. In fact, when I reached the end I weighed exactly the same as at the start, partly because of the nightly beers and partly because I had to eat so much each day just to get the energy to keep going. This day was particularly self-indulgent with a steak sandwich, chips and salad for lunch, something that would raise a few eyebrows if done on a club run.
The destination was my treat to myself: after days of hostels I had the whole upper floor of a cottage to relax in. My own private bathroom, a double bed, and a kitchen with an unrivalled selection of books that I tucked into. A brief look at ‘Goats’ (especially chapter 4, ‘Lodgings for a Goat’) was followed by an in-depth look at the ‘1956 Household Guide and Almanac’ with its unforgettable advice about double chins. Then I was off to the pub for some dinner. What better to drink here in the land of scrumpy, the home of cider, than…some more beer? Suitably refreshed I returned and settled down for some bedtime reading about the different types of foundations required when building houses on different types of soil. Fantastic.
Day Six: Axminster to Poole 38 miles, 14.6 mph, 543 metres of climbing
Demob happy! Just a half day of riding and I would be back at my in-laws’ house. Once again, I decided to jettison my original plan which have involved several 15-20% climbs around the Cerne Abbas Giant neck of the woods, and sought out the flattest route I could find. As always, this was a relative thing – even ‘flat’ Dorset is taxing by Essex standards, but it didn’t matter as I knew the end was nigh. Through Blandford Forum and I was on the home stretch, riding lanes approaching Wimbourne Minster that I had ridden many times on family visits over the last ten years. I put my head down and actually averaged something approaching a respectable speed for the last dozen miles. Then it was finally over and I didn’t have to ride any more. I insisted on weighing the bike and panniers before had a shower and a lengthy lie down, moaning to my clubmates by messenger about the elephant I’d been carrying all week. The reply was “it almost sounds like you haven’t enjoyed having a week off in perfect weather, in beautiful countryside, doing your hobby while the rest of us have been stuck at work.” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I’ve certainly learnt the benefits of travelling light.
LonLE – London to Land’s End (Lee Lavery).
I attempted this in a slightly different guise last year, however I broke a spoke on my wheels & couldn’t continue (don’t tour on carbon wheels!), I vowed to attempt it again the following year.
This year I managed to convince Becky, Rosy & Lewis to join me (after much beer & cider was consumed at the end of the LDN-PAR-LDN trip in May).
For Becky, Rosy and myself, this is pretty much a long ride home, as we all originate from Cornwall.
DAY 1 – London to Amesbury – 103 miles.
Setting off from Mile End Station at 7.30am (I was late, as per), seeing all the sights London has to offer, knowing that we were leaving this big city behind to ride until the road stops (literally) at the bottom of the UK was inherently satisfying.
The miles ticked over and eventually we found ourselves on some quieter roads, stopping for coffee & cakes in Bramely – Flat Whites haven’t quite reached this part of the world yet, however the cakes more than made up for this, on the recommendation of some fellow cyclists’ we ordered some Belgian Buns, which were amazing & huge.
Today’s ride had the least amount of elevation, we rolled through the countryside stopping for lunch in Andover, enjoying a leisurely lunch, knowing we only had just over 20 miles of the journey left for the day.
The weather had been kind so far, however after our lunch stop, the wind had picked up & the skies were looking ominously grey.
It wast long until the skies opened and we got thoroughly soaked, pushing on into the wind and rain with only about 10 miles to go, we arrived in Amesbury our first overnight stop in damp conditions.
A few beers, and a fantastic Thai restaurant soon made us forget the rain, while we hoped that our kit would be dry for tomorrow.
Day 2 – Amesbury to Exeter – 104 miles.
After devouring a huge breakfast, and leaving a little later than anticipated (mainly because I was always running late!), we continued heading south.
Similar distance lay ahead, but with much more elevation than the previous day, rolling through some beautiful countryside early on in the day, with hardly any traffic, the miles ticked over relatively effortlessly.
We stopped at a service station and stocked up on food for the onward journey, jaffa cakes a particular favourite.
Just before our designated lunch stop at Stoke Sub Hamdon, we enjoy a fantastic climb through Ham Hill country park, and we were rewarded with a beautiful view over the fields of Somerset. The view quickly made us forget about the climb up, we took a few photos and rolled down to hill for lunch at a nearby pub.
With over 50 miles still to go and a fair bit of climbing before we got to Exeter, we left Stoke Sub Hamdon pressing on into the headwind which would be with us for the whole trip.
Soon we started a long climb before pretty much the only ‘flat’ part of the day, followed by a descent into Exeter which we all got rather excited about, our anticipation peaked a bit too early, as the last 5 miles in to Exeter seemed to drag. Perhaps it was the fact we were coming back into civilisation, compared to the quiet country lanes we had been riding for most of the day.
Arriving at one of Exeter Uni’s halls of residence, we dropped our bikes off, got changed and headed to a pizza place to refuel and discuss tomorrows ride, which due to the weather was looking rather bleak to say the least. I think we all spent most of the night constantly checking various weather apps in hope that one of them would offer us something other than, torrential downpour and strong winds.
Day 3 – Exeter to St Austell – 77 miles.
4.45am – My alarm wakes me up, I snooze it, knowing I need the extra 10 minutes.
4.55am – This time, I have no choice but to get up.
We made the decision last night, to try and get ahead of the weather, this meant leaving at 5.30am, nearly an hour before sunrise.
As we left our rooms, we all had an equally unenthusiastic look on our faces, knowing what lay ahead throughout the day. 77 miles, over 7000ft of climbing, much of it steep and punchy Devon and Cornish climbs, and more than likely non-stop rain from 7am.
Climbing out of Exeter in the dark, the rain held off for about 2 hours, we made a quick pitstop for coffee at a Wetherspoons in Oakhampton (it was terrible), I looked on in envy, while many people were tucking into their full English breakfast, we pushed on into the rain and wind, knowing it wasn’t going to get any better.
The Granite way, which runs from Oakhampton to Lydford is a cycle path that follows the route of the old Southern Region rail line came as a welcome relief, relatively flat and sheltered away from the wind. The views are apparently spectacular, not that we could see them, due to the rain and low lying cloud cover.
One particular highlight was crossing Meldon Viaduct, until then, the route had been quite sheltered, as we hit the open expanse of the viaduct, we were all instantly hit with a massive crosswind, that nearly threatened to blow us off our bikes! There was only one thing for it, heads down, in the drops and push through as quickly as possible!
The headwind, climbing, rain and an early start was starting to take its toll. Over the course of the day I ate pretty much non-stop, 7 stroopwaffles and at least 5 Choco Rice Krispy bars to keep myself going.
Aiming to take a scenic route, once we hit Cornwall (although there was a distinct lack of a sprint sign), avoiding main roads, a lot of the route was on single track Cornish lanes, covered in mud and grass, barely wide enough for a car to pass through. Descending on these lanes in the dry is often hazardous at best. With the combination of non-stop rain and our bikes laden with panniers and saddlebags, descending became increasingly sketchy, constantly pulling hard on the brakes, this soon became as tiresome as the climbing.
50 miles in, and we hit the long climb up into Minions, the wind and rain had not relented, we stopped at a cafe (that was unsurprisingly empty), Lewis enjoyed a Cornish Cream Tea (jam first, then cream) and Becky refused to sit down, for fear of not being able to stand back up again.
Back out into the wind and rain (have you got the message that it didn’t stop raining), knowing we only had 27 miles until warmth, a cup of tea, and a shower, we pushed on, after a few sketchy descents and short, punchy climbs we were soon on the outskirts of Bodmin. We started to hit some familiar roads, knowing how close we were, I started pushing harder on the pedals, knowing all the climbing was behind us.
Rolling into my hometown of St Austell and to my parent’s house, a big wave of relief hit. We arrived at about 1pm, we were warmly greeted by my Mum and Dad, a quick rinse of the bikes to get some of the dirt off, kettle on, quick shower and lunch followed.
One of the benefits of leaving at 5.30am is, more time to spend in the pub!
Day 4 – St Austell to Land’s End – 56 miles (+8 miles back to Penzance)
After being well looked after by my parents, lycra all washed and cleaned, breakfast scoffed, we set off for the final leg of our journey.
Heavy legs, apart from Rosy who seemed to be riding into form! We ticked off the miles, quickly making it to Truro. Soon we were riding in some typical Cornish ‘mizzle’, a combination of mist and incredibly fine rain, nearly invisible to the naked eye.
The weather seemed to change with every every corner we turned, eventually the mizzle cleared and we were treated to some great views of the Cornish landscape.
A bit more climbing, and soon we began descending into Marizion, we could see St Michael’s Mount in the distance, we decided to stop for a quick break (I couldn’t resist a steak pasty) and a few photos.
Soon we were rolling again, heading into Rosy’s hometown of Penzance, Lewis took the sprint sign without any contest from hometown hero Rosy.
Rosy soon took to the front of our small peloton, in a similar fashion to a rider at Le Tour passing through their hometown, being cheered on by the vast crowds who came out to support us, or so we imagined.
We still had 8 miles to ride to Land’s End, Lewis wanted to the ride the beautiful but hilly coastal route, I quickly vetoed that idea as my knees had been causing me trouble all day (perhaps from pushing the pedals a bit too hard yesterday!). Climbing out of Penzance on the quite busy A30 wasn’t my favourite part of the journey, but that was soon forgotten once we were on the rolling final few miles to Land’s End.
We had been discussing the final Land’s End sprint throughout the trip (that’s what really matters right?), however, as we approached I’m not sure any of us had the energy for that kind of thing, we finished the journey crossing the line Team Sky style at Le Tour, the only thing missing was the Champagne – however we didn’t have to wait long!
Rosy’s family were there to congratulate us on the end of our journey, complete with Prosecco and a homemade sign! – it’s £10 to get your picture taken at the ‘official’ sign!
After toasting our ride, lots of pictures, and a couple glasses of Prosecco, sat at the end of the UK, or the start depending on how you look at it, looking out to sea, I think we were all incredibly proud and relieved to have finished. My mind started to drift to my next adventure, ride the Cornish Coast, LEJOG, or somewhere further afield…
However we still had the small matter of 8 miles back to Penzance, Rosy’s parents kindly offered to take our bags and panniers in the car, so we could ‘enjoy’ the ride back a bit more. For 4 days, we had been riding into a headwind, as we turned back to Penzance, we knew this would be a strong tailwind and started tapping out a brisk pace, unencumbered by our luggage and knowing that we would soon be back at the pub, enjoying some fine Cornish ale!
Total Miles – 349.5
Total Elevation – 22,544ft
Punctures – 0!
Thoughts from Becky:
I bought my first race licence in July but I had yet to conjure up the courage to actually get out and race. So I pre-entered myself into CC London’s Hog on the Occasional Hill Cat 4 Race on the 4th of August and I told plenty of people so I couldn’t back out of it! With some pre-race training supplied by CC London beforehand I felt pretty happy going into the race, the nervous butterflies I had been having, flew away and the 12 of us set off.
I played it safe, sitting 3rd or 4th person back following the lead of the other riders who had raced before. First time up the hill I was second over the top, I had settled into a nice rhythm. I decided to take my turn at the front, just as I made my way they rung the bell to let us know the next lap we were going up the hill again… rookie mistake! I tried to ease up hoping someone would go round me, but they didn’t. I fell back through the ranks as we went up the hill and had to chase back on for the next couple of laps.
Once I caught up I stayed with the leading riders for the rest of the race. I didn’t quite see the move by the sprinters in time and my reaction just wasn’t quite quick enough to jump on the back of the sprint train so I ended up finishing in no mans land alone in 4th place picking up 6 points! I was so happy to finish and place in my first race!
I had caught the bug so I entered the Full Gas Women’s 3/4 cat race at Lea Valley Velopark. There was a huge field for a women’s race, I’m not sure of the exact number but I think there was about 30-40 riders.
It made for an interesting race, and it felt much different to Saturdays race. A lot of the women were riding as if they were the only person on the track, which made for some sketchy moments! I was much more familiar with this course having done the majority of the Tuesday Tens and I felt much more comfortable cornering and riding in the bunch this time around because of it.
40 minutes went by and the signs came out and we had 5 laps left, so I slowly started moving closer to the front. 4 laps to go, 3 laps to go, 2 laps to go, 1 lap to go… I was near the front only behind a couple of other riders having just dipped down the hill the speed was faster than it had been all evening. People were vying for prime position, and that’s when I crashed. The women in front of me clipped the wheel in front of her and fell off. I was too close to be able to brake or dodge it so I also ended up on the floor as well having gone over my handlebars.
I helped the other woman up who had definitely come off worse and took her and the bikes off the track just in time as the rest of the bunch were still racing and had just crossed the finish line.
Currently I only have a 50% completion rate when I race which isn’t great, but on the flip side I have managed to place in 50% of my races as well! The way I look at it is you win some, you lose some (or come 4th!) So I am looking forward to racing again and building up my knowledge of racing tactics, but first things first, I need to learn to pick a better wheel!
If you’ve been thinking about racing, just do it! It’s so much fun, and not as scary or dangerous as I’ve made out above! If you want a familiar introduction into racing then enter the LVCC Len Cooper Crit Race is on the 23rd of September. Being a club members only event it is a great way to experience your first race and get some experience under your belts with people you know and ride with normally!
If you have any questions or are interested in racing in the future, get in touch or chat to me on a club run.
Thoughts from George:
Over the August bank holiday weekend, I took part in the Summer Points Series Crits hosted at Redbridge Cycling Centre. Yet, on Saturday morning, standing at the top of the Hog Hill circuit, under grey skies and with a sharp northerly wind, I began to wonder if perhaps they should have dropped “Summer” from the series title!
I had entered into the 4th cat race, on the second day of a three-event series running between the 18th and 27th of August. Each day had plenty of racing action, with two women’s races (4th cat and an E123), and four for the men (4th, 3rd, E12 and a Master’s). All races followed the same format, with around 45 minutes of riding including three prime laps. With points gained in the primes and final race standings contributing to riders’ overall position in the series.
The race itself was fast, but not beyond what I’m used to and I managed to pick up a handful of series points for being in the top three riders for each of the primes. However, when a two man break eventually broke off the front of the pack I simply didn’t have the legs to go with them. In the final bunch sprint, I came across the line in 8th place, picking up a further few series points, as well as a couple of BC points.
On Monday morning, the day of the final race of the series I had a look through the standings so far and was surprised to see myself in 4th place, even though I’d missed the first race all together. I decided my best tactic for the day was to take as many of the prime points and see how I was feeling when it came to the final sprint. My plan seemed to pay off, and by staying at the sharp end of the race I managed to pick up the maximum number of prime points. Coming down to a final sprint for the finish, an Islington CC rider managed to slip passed to take the win, but I was more than happy with second place. Especially considering that I had amassed enough points during the race to take the series title, as well the accompanying cash prize!
Overall, I had a great weekend of racing, and was really impressed with how well the series had been organised. It was good that a number of LVCC members had made an appearance, including myself, Lee Lavery, Paul Roberts and Tim Holmes (in his OCTAVE guise). Though the cold weather probably put off many spectators, (it was great to see Dave McCarthy back on his bike and making the trip to watch!), there was still a good atmosphere and many riders stayed on to watch the races later in the day. All going to plan, the organising team are planning on running the series again next year, and I for one will be entering!
A 600km East-West-East circuit around London, picking up a few Abbeys on the way.
Adam Vincent and I took part in our first 600 audax last weekend after having so much fun on our last 400*. The clue to this route is in the title** as it begins in Battle and the checkpoints are all connected to Abbeys, some of which are almost worth the cycle ride to visit. As with the 400 (see London Wales London) we were incredibly lucky with the weather – warm, but a nice breeze and some cloud cover. We set off at 6am with about 24 other riders and pegged it quickly up to Gravesend after the first information control (you must find a piece of information to put on your Brevet card), crossing the north Downs with a brute of a 17% climb. We arrived at Gravesend pier at 9.07, some 2 minutes after the ferry had left. We had to wait an hour, by which point most of the riders had arrived and we all squeezed onto the tiny boat to Tilbury.
From Tilbury the landscape is described as ‘bleakly charming if you relax into it’ in the organiser’s email, but it whizzed by quickly enough. After experiencing the joys of Basildon and Billericay we entered familiar territory around Hanningfield reservoir. At Coggeshall we reached the most north easterly point for the control, where tea and food were provided. We just managed to escape before the Sunday fete brought the whole town centre to a standstill. Beautiful single-track road through wheatfields took us west, now with a bit of a headwind.
Braintree was a bit ‘urban’, followed by the relentlessly straight B1256 (Roman?) – fast but mind-numbing. More familiar roads around Bishop’s Stortford, Green Tye and Widford, Ware and Hertford. St Alban’s Abbey was the next checkpoint at around 5pm, by which time we’d clocked up 250k. I ordered tea and cake, whilst Adam had a little nap on the pavement, much to the consternation of the patrons of Gail’s bakery. A brief information control at Godstow as the sun was setting and we hammered it as fast as we could into Oxford.
The sleep stop was hard to find, but it did have mattresses and blankets, making the luggage I had carried the whole way mostly redundant. I didn’t manage much actual sleep, but just lying down for a few hours after 337km was worthwhile. The next morning we got up at 4am, by which time most people had already left. A few had carried straight on, whilst others had slept for just a couple of hours. I felt tired as it was and don’t know how they stayed awake through the night.
The first day had been pretty good – I got my hydration and feeding right and felt comfortable on the bike, but the pace had been quite high (we were 3rd and 4th to get to Oxford). I felt quite rough on the Sunday morning – everything aching and not feeling right on the bike. Sunrise was welcome though and the temperature was perfect. Some long, grinding climbs through the north Wessex downs, but none too steep. Winchester was a full control with cooked breakfast and real coffee which sorted me out – my aches vanished and everything clicked into place.
We headed south and soon Portsmouth and the sea appeared. Info control at Titchfield and then heading west across the skirts of the South Downs – relentlessly lumpy and hot. This was probably the toughest bit of the ride and we slowed right down, below 25kph. Commercial control in Storrington (collect a receipt from any shop) and then the final push through to Battle. Good stretches of flat roads to pick up speed again, with a medium climb at the end. Back into Battle at 5.25pm on the Sunday.
Audaxes are a unique experience – there’s a whole community of volunteers that run them on a shoestring, providing controls, food and general camaraderie. Audaxing requires a particular, stoic mindset and the shared experience means you quickly bond with others out on the road. I was amazed that several of the riders had completed the Transcontinental Race – something I’ve always been in awe of – yet they weren’t any fitter or faster than us, just more willing to put up with the discomfort. It’s a state of mind – if you decide to enjoy it, you will do. On the other hand, we’ve only done audaxes in good weather and I’m not sure we’d be so sanguine if it rained the whole way. Hydration and feeding are key – it does vary from person to person, but I’m happy to share what works for me with anyone who’s interested. Also, if you’re wondering why I’m not in club colours, keeping cool is a challenge and this light jersey does that job best.
Next year’s ‘Chase the sun’ looks good. Hope to see you on an audax soon.
*Type II fun
** Audax humour
Thoughts from David Veitch:
As my racing licence had autorenewed again this year, I thought I better make some use of it after only doing 1 race last year. Before the LVCC event, I had done 3 other road races with lacklustre results. Doing mainly time trials and club runs, I was still uncomfortable with the close proximity of the bunch on faster sections and corners. As a result, I often sat on the front which was great while my legs lasted but less so for the finish! I also have been suffering from cramps at the end when things get punchy, meaning I just roll to an undignified stop in agony rather than gloriously sprinting over the line. In summary, I didn’t have great expectations for the day.
On this attempt, I decided to be firm with myself and do absolutely nothing for the first half of the race – harder for me than it sounds. For whatever reason, I seemed to manage it better than usual. It was nearly quite blissful, zooming around at 25mph with a few short efforts on the rises and lightly spinning the cranks on the flat. My cunning plan was to give it a dig on the uphill crosswind turning on the second half of the 3rd 15 mile lap – approx. 35 miles in with 25 to go. Alas some others had the same idea so about 4 of us charged off together.
We opened up an initial gap but the main group was keen to get back in touch so after a couple of minutes they appeared on the twisty section chasing hard. When it became apparent they were going to catch, we sat up but I didn’t ease off completely. As we came to the top of the downhill section, I was sitting on the front so I tucked down and leaned a bit harder on the pedals to up the speed. Looking back, a gap of a few bike lengths had opened. Didn’t think too much of it as I freewheeled on at 30mph+. Few more pedal strokes and looked back again and the gap was growing on out. So it continued down the gradient until there was maybe a gap of 5 seconds (sounds small but quite big when going fast!). I sort of dangled there for a moment, not knowing what to do as no-one seemed interested in coming across. Then I thought why not give it a go solo. I knew I was pretty fast on the flat with my head down and they seemed to be faffing a bit. So off I went! Still on the gentle downhill, I got into TT mode, tucking everything possible in and subtly pushed a big gear. And so it continued for the next hour…
I didn’t really know what would happen. I was soon into a twistier rolling section where I quickly lost sight of the group. The next I knew the motorcycle outrider came past and said I had a gap of 50 seconds! I couldn’t really believe it, had they crashed or something? Did I mishear him? Could he count? Anyway, I eased up a bit as I knew there was a long way to go, but he kept coming back with the gap being maintained or sneaking up. I thought great but they must be messing around, saving themselves for a charge on the last lap. Also, there was a long headwind drag to come where I knew I would lose time to a big group.
By this point I’d just come past the start finish to start the last 15 miles. I went to kick on over the top but my left leg completely cramped up. This had been the blight of all my previous road races. I instantly thought I’m going to have to quit, what’s the point now? My gap will be gone and legs shot. I desperately stood up on the pedals and freewheeled for about 30s as I tried to stretch everything out. Sitting back down, I tentatively started to pedal again. Hmm, seems to be okayish, bit twingy but things are going round and I’m going forward. Alas going to have to keep going! Settling down again, I waited for the bad news from the outrider.
Sure enough the gap was down to about 40 seconds – could be worse! However, it was now into the long headwind section and then the uphill crosswind where I had originally attacked. Looking back at Strava shows I managed to hold the gap pretty consistent along here and then when I got back on the rolling downhill, I opened it up again to nearly 1 minute. Phew, only a few miles left.
By the end I was gasping quite literally: only had a single 600ml bottle for the whole race and it was hitting 28/29°C by the end of the 2.5 hours. I also had only eaten 2 gels and nothing after the first half. The finish line couldn’t come quick enough! Alas the advertised race length of 60 miles came and went on my computer screen and I was still nowhere near; my mental countdown to the end in tenth-of-a-mile intervals was a mockery. Where on earth was it? Alas 2.46 miles, or another 6.5 minutes of misery, down the road I would discover.
In the end, I gritted my teeth and pushed up the final 2 minute incline to the finish. This felt like an eternity, but once the line was in sight, and more importantly no-one behind was, I eased over the line to win. With the surge and sprint at the end for everyone else, the gap to the next rider ended up around 40 seconds.
Immediate relief! A result for the first time this year, and where better?!
Thank you again to the club and all the clubmates who were involved in putting on the day and shouted encouragement from every corner. This really made all the difference and kept me focussed in trying not to disappoint.
London – Paris – London
May Bank Holiday Weekend
Day 1 (Caroline)
The ride started under a cloudy sky and, for me at least, with quite a cloudy head from waking up too early after a short night following a very last-minute packing. Meeting at Mile End at 7:00am our jolly group of 10 started to cycle in line trying to avoid being cut off by traffic, and feeling slightly out of place with all our bags, gears, and head to toe lycra looks amongst the regular commuters.
I was at the back of the group when the crash happened. All I saw was Adam sat on the pavement holding his hand and a man at least 10 meters away from him, lying down on his back, his head (with no helmet!) bleeding. We all jumped out of our bikes: some started to marshal traffic, Lee attended to Adam, and Jemma started to take care of the man lying there. The wait for the ambulance seemed endless considering we were just behind the Royal London Hospital but they finally arrived and took over – they brought the injured riders to safety and we took care of the bikes. Once it was over, we looked at each other and we agreed it was time to get on to Paris!
Cycling toward South London, our little group got told to “get proper jobs” as we soon left the big roads for some green urban paths which (little did we know) were the first of many non-road-bike-friendly tracks we would encounter until Paris. Stopping for lunch at a pub on the usual route to Brighton, Nestor and Jemma ate a disappointing micro bruschetta, I lowered my saddle praying my old commuter bike (or myself) would not die before arriving to Paris, and Alex made sure Adam was ok, while we all wondered how long we should wait until throwing some finger jokes…
The rest of the ride was uneventful – pretty much your usual slightly wet road down to the coast with some foresty lanes, slippery road works, and a pretty ugly arrival to Newhaven made better by a fueling stop at McDonald/ KYC/ Lidl, accompanied by some Froome magic on the Giro. By the time we got on the boat the sun was out and the spirits were high!
After a chat with a very relaxed custom officer who luckily did not find the many firearms we were trying to introduce to France, we jumped on the boat for a four-hour chat about fingers, cycling and LVCC. Once in France, we said goodbye to the drunk rugby players that pretended to try cycling and started to look for our hotel. Passing through quiet Dieppe, climbing up a dark motorway, turning on an Intermarché parking and passing a llama, we finally found our Michelin-star F1 hotel for a good shower in flip flops and a short night sleep – ready for more adventures!
Day 2 (James)
With Lee and Lewis pressing for a super early start and a race paced chain gang to Paris (nothing to do with the Champions League final), we compromised and set out from our luxury accommodation at 7:30 after a breakfast of whatever we managed to fill our bags with from Lidl the evening before. Our day’s plan was the 130 miles to Paris, using a mixture of Avenue Verte and a lovely route through some little villages. The sun made an early appearance and quickly reached about 28 degrees, which made the quite lumpy route fairly tough going. Frequent water stops were a must, alongside a very leisurely lunch at a pizzeria.
On we pootled through the french countryside and rolling hills towards Paris. It was hard to get used to the fact a car horn and shout from a window was encouragement, not abuse! The route wasn’t strictly speaking entirely road… I had cause to feel smug with my choice of 43mm tyres. At around 110 miles, Jemma and I decided to split off to find some dinner and take the run into Paris a little slower…finding vegetarian food in France late at night is a challenge! The ride into Paris was beautiful, through a big park with the skyline slowly appearing through the trees, before a horrifying descent down some cobbles that had some of the group convinced that Caroline’s bike was going to vibrate to pieces.
The advance party managed to make it to the Eiffel Tower just before the sun disappeared, before heading back to the hotel to gorge on well earned takeaway food. Jemma and I decided to leave the sightseeing for the morning, head to the hotel and take a more leisurely route home the next day.
Day 3 (Jemma)
After getting into Paris too late to see the Eiffel Tower, James and I decided to go in the morning before catching a train to Rouen with the intent of then cycling half the distance to the ferry port where we would meet the rest of the group. Tensions did flare slightly when the train broke down with no indication of when it would start again, thankfully within the hour they were moving. However, in our eagerness to get out cycling in the beautiful weather we hopped out a stop too early adding an extra 15 miles onto our journey.
Not thinking it would be an issue we set off in the sunshine and had a lovely trundle up river paths, through beautiful fields and past many farms. Some fantastic 2UP time trialling down a particular stretch of road gave some welcome top 10 strava cups. A note has been made to go back without luggage to get the QOMs.
As the light started to fade, lights went on and cycling continued until the route went a little awry and we ended up in the middle of a countryside housing estate; bikes had to be pushed over a bridge over a stream which saw the entrance into a tree covered track. My 25s weren’t made for what was effectively a fire road and I suspected that James did it on purpose to get use out of his new ‘all purpose bike’ and 43mm tyres. After pushing the bikes through 1km of tree roots, rocks and mud we came out the other side and had an enjoyable ride in fading light into Dieppe where we met up with the others for some port-side drinks before boarding the ferry.
The rest of the group took a much more direct route out of Paris, closed roads due to a charity run aided their exit, the quiet rolling French main roads and fantastic weather helped the group roll along the 112mile trip at an average of 16mph. There were few shaky moments, mainly trying to find somewhere to eat (that wasn’t McDonalds) in the French countryside – We ended up at the Golden Arches regardless.
Arriving into Dieppe in the early evening – Lee took the infamous Dieppe sprint sign – the first port of call was a few pints in the nearest bar, although for Nestor he had to cool down in the fountain!
Day 4 – (Jemma)
The sleep on the ferry couldn’t really be called a sleep, not sure that anyone got more than 2 hours and the McDonald’s breakfast barely made the cycle ahead palatable at 5am in the morning. James and I decided to splinter from the group and take a different route home via Brighton. The juxtaposition of an on-going rave in the arches against the early morning nudist swimmers was interesting (that would have been me a few years back). On leaving Brighton up the slow drag onto the national cycle route we got about 5 miles north before erm, my saddle issues had gotten so bad that the 50 mile ride back to London was going to be near on impossible so we freewheeled back to the station and got the train. A new saddle was promptly purchased the following week. The rest of the group went directly back to London and somehow managed to eat their own body weights in McDonald’s, before being caught in the only rain we saw all weekend!
**as an aside, Lee failed in his bet that I would be the first to fall off. I (Jemma) did however take the record for how many times someone can fall off in a four day stretch.
Lee gets his own special mention for his ride back to London, but you will have to ask him why…
Despite being off to a rather traumatic start (and we wish Adam all the best in his continued recovery), it was a great trip. With ferry, hotels and food amounting to around £100 each for a 4 day adventure, this is definitely one to do again!
By Colin Ross
0 hrs – I guess I’m actually doing this then.
I honestly can’t remember why I decided to do a 12hr TT this season,
but I think in part it was a result of spending too much time with Gary Boyd who, for reasons that I will never understand, loves riding 12 and 24hr TTs. He left it until a couple of weeks before the event to mention that he was a DNF in the same race last year after falling asleep on his bike.
2 hrs – at least it’s stopped raining. I averaged 38kph for the the last lap, imagine if I can maintain that for the whole 12hrs!
In my preparation I had looked at pretty much every table of predicted times online, stalked riders on Strava and created spreadsheets within spreadsheets. In the end, I had three average speeds written on a bit of tape stuck to my bars. One was enough to beat the club record (34kph), one was a realistic target (35.5kph) and one was rather optimistic (37kph)
3 hrs – I definitely can’t maintain that for 12hrs
At this stage I was averaging higher than my optimistic target and had already had to stop for my first of 5 comfort breaks. It’s depressing how quickly your average speed drops when you turn off auto pause. I set my computer(s) to show me stats for each 20 mile lap and only once in the 12hrs did I look at my overall average. It really helped to break up the seemingly insurmountable task, and allowed me to start a fresh after a bad lap.
4 hrs – ok, lets accept that I went out a bit too hard, but to look on the bright side, I still have 8hrs to settle into a more sustainable pace!
My brother had kindly agreed to support me and had ridden down to arrive by my first stop at around 4hrs. I drove down the night before and parked by the side of the course. I stopped once around 100 miles in, and after that, he ‘handed up’ a bottle as I went past. From around 8 hours onwards my solid food had run out and he started taping chews or bars to the bottle.
6 hrs – this is officially the longest ride I have done; that will show people who compare themselves to me on Strava. That reminds me, must think of a hilarious name for this ride.
I never did think of a good name, despite having plenty of time. Time generally passed pretty quickly and it was a massive boost to get past half way and know that you are closer to the end than the start. It’s an out and back course so there was a pretty decent headwind for half the lap. Generally I was averaging over 40kph on the way out and trying to keep the speed up as best as possible on the way back.
8 hrs – never again, must remember this feeling when I think about entering another 12hr.
This was probably my low point and also the windiest that it got during the day. Some more friends had arrived and their cheers really helped. I had also left a sharpie with my supplies so they could write messages on the bottles that were being handed to me. At this stage we were getting quite good at the hand ups and I was taking bottles from my brother at 36kph as he sprinted along beside me. He may be poached by another rider for next year.
10 hrs – Thank f**k we are onto the finishing circuit.
The course is pretty simple compared to most 12’s. It’s a stretch of dual carriageway with three roundabouts and after around 10 laps of the main circuit you start turning at the middle roundabout. This helps as the headwind section is shorter, but it also misses out the hilly and extremely bumpy section at one end of the course. The road surface is terrible and you have to pick your line carefully, especially if you are running a 20mm from tyre on trispoke. The section approaching the bottom roundabout is referred to as the ‘Chawton Roubaix’ and has seen a fair few broken bars and pads in it’s time.
11 hrs 15 mins – Woo Hoo, broken the club record! Now to push on and put it on the shelf… or I could just stop now.
The hardest thing I found about a 12hr is that it’s a sustainable effort, but you are constantly bugged by the knowledge that easing off slightly wouldn’t make that much difference in the grand scheme of things. Motivation is a big factor. Little things can be a big boost, like miss reading the time and realising you have an hour less than you thought, although it can also go the other way.
12 hrs – I better reach the time keeper soon as I need another piss!
A bit like the hour record, you have to carry on after the 12hrs is up until you pass the next timekeeper on the road. I had been doing plenty of calculations and worked out that I should finish pretty close to my support, but if not, I would have to carry on another 2 or 3 miles until the next timekeeper. This would have left me with an additional 7 mile ride into the headwind which was not going to happen! I eased up slightly to make sure and then skidded to a halt to answer nature’s call.
I rode the 3 miles back to the van, and had a wee sit down. Then it was off to the HQ to sign out. Can you believe we didn’t even get a free cup of tea!
Having had a bit of time to reflect on my ride and look at the data, I’m not sure I would have changed things an awful lot (apart from not doing it in the first place). I was pretty much spot on with my ‘realistic’ predicted distance of 265 miles, although it would have been better to start out slower and maintain the same pace throughout. I would have gone a few extra miles if I had not had to stop so many times and I think I could have ridden without a pit stop 4hrs in. But all in all, I’m very happy, especially on my first attempt.
A big thanks to the Lynn and Rupert for hosting, helping and cheering me. Richard and Ger for their boundless enthusiasm and most importantly my brother David for his amazing support and top notch handing up.
For those interested, here are the stats –
Distance – 428 km / 265.9 miles
Average – 35.67 kph / 22.16 mph
NP – 199W
AV HR – 143 bpm
TSS – 612
IF – 0.71
Cadence – 89
Moving Time – 11:52:34
Stopped – 7:26
Climbing – 2109m
Calories – 8,627
By Roland Karthaus
Adam Vincent and I set off with 120 riders from Chalfont st Peter at 6am. It was a cold but beautiful start, rolling along country lanes – a few gentle climbs. There was a light tailwind and we did about 30kph till we hit the first control point at Woodstock social club. True audax style there was a full cooked breakfast awaiting. We stopped for 15 minutes before pushing on to the Cotswolds. The route was like a tour of the quaintsvilles – chocolate box villages one after another. slightly stiffer climbs until Tewkesbury free control – we had to collect a timed receipt from any shop. Greggs did the job for us with a quick cheese and bacon croissant. Next up was an info control – take note of the initials on a war memorial. Then we hit Yat’s rock – an absolutely brutal climb – I was wishing for a granny gear – inching my way up what seemed like an endless climb. Up until then I’d been feeling pretty comfortable but by now it was about 25 degrees and the climb really took it out of me.
We limped into the Tutshill control, with 215km done at about 2pm. Lunch was laid on and that sorted us out. I fixed a slow puncture and we set off again, crossing the Severn bridge around 3pm. The last control before the finish at Lambourn was 100k away and this was the toughest section – lumpy with some nice flat sections, but everything was aching by then. About halfway I had a second puncture, then a third. Only then did I realise my rim tape had slipped exposing the spoke holes which were causing the punctures. Useless lightweight rim tape – fortunately a passing rider had some electrical tape to cover the holes and I could sort it but that cost us an hour. All day it had been flawless weather and as the sun was dropping the light was stunningly beautiful. The route is an old audax route and was almost entirely backroads. We were struggling by now but ground on to Lambourn where another much needed meal was served. We set off on the final 90km at 9pm in the dark with big lights and batteries. The temperature had dropped dramatically, but there was barely any wind and a beautiful clear sky. A couple of stiff climbs then we descended into the Thames Valley and tapped out 30km in an hour up to a small climb back into Chalfont. We were stamped in at 12.59 am – about 1 hour after our target time but I put that down to punctures.
Audaxers are insistent that it’s not a race – there’s a maximum time of 27 hours but mainly it’s about getting round and sharing the experience. Having said that we were somewhere in the top 30-40 out of 120. The fastest was about 14 hours – 5 hours faster than us. The network of volunteers who manned the controls and served food – all included in the 20 quid fee – really put sportives to shame and gave it a great sense of community.
So next up is a 600km audax – we’ll probably stop in the middle of that one but it’s totally achievable.